The first running of the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway (SC) is set to carry on one of the Southeast’s great Late Model Stock Car traditions, but on Saturday night the ‘Mighty Modifieds’ of the rejuvenated SMART Tour stole the show with a thrilling dash to the finish over the final five laps.
Brandon Ward seemed to have a large enough advantage once Brian Loftin had moved to second place with five to go, but Loftin wore the advantage away by the time the top two passed under the white flag. With a small tap to Ward’s back bumper in Turn 1, Loftin took the Shady Grady No. 15 inside and to the lead.
Loftin survived a final bump from Ward in the Coulter Motorsports No. 2 in turn three to hold on for his second SMART Tour win of the short 2020 season.
“A good race car is an understatement; this race team is phenomenal they deserve all the credit,” Loftin said in victory lane. “This thing is a rocket ship every time I sit in it, if I don’t win it’s because I messed up. That was fun, if you didn’t like that, you just don’t like racing. Modifieds put on a heck of a show where ever they go.”
The key to Loftin’s late-race surge was simply saving his tires and going full throttle at just the right time.
“Coming down to the end there I knew we had the car to win, it was just a matter of getting it done. When everybody was on new tires it was so hard to pass because everybody was so good. Had to give them enough time to start using their stuff up a little bit so I could come up. I didn’t know if we had enough time, but that was exciting.”
For Ward, it was mistiming his final charge to the finish that resulted in the runner-up finish.
“We probably went too hard, too early. I felt like it was going to stay with me and it got too free on entry when Brian was coming. One lap short, but congratulations to Brian and those guys, a real good team there and fun to race.”
But, Ward was still in high spirits at the end of the day, having only gotten the opportunity to race the 75-lap season finale for the SMART Tour.
“I can’t thank Randy Renfrow, Joey Coulter and this entire Coulter Motorsports enough for letting me come here and race. We weren’t even supposed to be here tonight, to get the call from them Wednesday night was special.”
Burt Myers came on strong at the end, but was only able to finish in the third position. Former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte led early, but also faded late, settling for fourth in an eventful Modified debut. Jeff Fultz came back from an opening lap pileup to complete the top five.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Brandon Zumbach